Nearly 700 rockets from Gaza hit southern Israel, killing four Israelis on Saturday and Sunday before a cease-fire was arranged early Monday, but as of late Sunday, no official delegations or tourist groups coming to Tel Aviv for next week’s Eurovision Song Contest had cancelled their reservations, hoteliers said.
On the other hand, Tel Aviv-area hotels, which had raised room rates in anticipation of a surge of Eurovision tourists, have lowered their sights and cut prices. Even before the fighting between Israel and Hamas broke out over the weekend, tourism forecasts saw fewer than 10,000 foreign fans coming to Israel for the event.
In the midst of the hostilities, nine days before Eurovision was due to kick off, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security and strategic affairs minister, warned that the government would not make concessions to Hamas to wind down the fighting.
“Cultural events should not be a consideration when it comes to the strength of our retaliation,” he said, calling to “increase our assault on Gaza until there is quiet and return to targeted assassinations.”
Last week the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper quoted Palestinian factions in Gaza saying that Israel’s failure to implement understandings on easing the enclave’s economic plight would lead to more arson attacks on the border, and rockets on Tel Aviv that would “ruin Eurovision.”
Prior to the cease-fire, Yossi Fattal, CEO of Israel’s Incoming Tour Operators Association, said he remained optimistic that the fighting’s impact on incoming tourism would be minimal.
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“The question is if tourists [who are already here] are asking to leave and the answer is categorically no,” he said. “I assume that on [Monday] we’ll start to get questions from groups coming in the next few months, but anyone who is supposed to be coming in the next few weeks I don’t think will cancel.”
Fattal said tourists’ attitudes towards upsurges in violence had changed. “A few months ago they fired 500 rockets at us and then came the anti-tunnel operation, and there wasn’t a single cancellation. It’s logical that tourists would want to leave but I haven’t heard of a single group that has given up and is going home. If once hundreds of rockets could bury Israeli tourism, that’s not the situation today.”
Nevertheless, the turnout for Eurovision is lower than the Israeli hotel industry had been counting on just a few weeks ago.
“The number of tourists who they said would come was a case of spin that got out of control,” said Fattal. “In May, 400,000 travelers come to Israel almost every year, so what difference is another 10,000 or 20,000 tourists? It’s nothing dramatic nor does it require us to build tent cities.”
He estimated that the final number of tourists arriving only for Eurovision would be less than 10,000. Oded Grofman, director of the Tel Aviv Hotels Association, said he expected just 5,000 to 7,000 Eurovision tourists. He estimated that occupancy rates at city hotels would be a comfortable 75% but no more.
“There won’t be any overbooking but it will definitely be a good month if the events down south don’t escalate,” Grofman said.
The best indication of the slack demand is hotel room rates, which industry sources say have fallen by as much as 70% from their peaks.
For example, the boutique CUCU Hotel has cut its asking price for a double room with breakfast for the Eurovision week of May 13-19 to 5,500 shekels ($1,535) from 19,000. The Orchid Tel Aviv has cut its rate for the same dates to 6,800 shekels from 18,400, while the Alma has dropped its rate to 7,500 shekels from 20,000.
“There are quite a few rooms available for the Eurovision weekend. Rates are reasonable and you can find rooms for 700-800 shekels a night,” said Grofman. “There were a lot of rooms for delegations that didn’t end up using them, and it seems that a lot of business people opted not to come next week because they thought it would be crowded and difficult.”
In any case, travel industry executives said the real business from Eurovision would come from the event itself.
“If Eurovision is a success and the world sees it broadcast live from Tel Aviv, it will bring an increase in tourism later,” said Fattal, prior to the cease-fire. “We aren’t measuring the event by the number of people coming for it but its media impact. What’s important isn’t how many will be staying in hotels or coming for Eurovision, but that it happens and isn’t canceled because of the security situation.”